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London to Berlin with wife and children

Hi All,

First of all, apologies for the rather long post. I hope you can spare few minutes to read my questions.

I am looking for some general suggestions about moving to Berlin with my family (wife and 3 daughters), from people that have a similar family setup and background.

At work, an US headquartered consulting company, I am being asked whether I would like to transfer long term to our new Berlin office next year (2018). Currently I am living in London, and I am finding the  idea of moving to Berlin attractive for various professional and financial reasons.

However, I am not entirely sure whether it's the right place for me and my family from a non-professional side (education for children, fitting in among locals, etc).

I have been reading about housing, cost of living comparisons, schools. And have a general idea of what to expect. All that said, I was hoping to get more anecdotal insights from people similar to us.

To set some context, here some basic information about my family:
We have 3 daughters that are 7, 4 and 2 years old
My wife and I are in our late 30s
We have moved around already few times (in my adult life: Mexico, NYC, London, Sao Paulo, London again).
My wife speaks English, Spanish and Portuguese
I speak the same languages plus German (I lived as a kid near Hamburg for few years)
My eldest 2 daughters speaks English and Spanish (+few German words/sentences)
My wife studied fashion in NYC, and worked for a couple of international retail brands, and for the last couple of years has been looking after the children.
I am a so called data analyst/data scientist.<- think of people that create mathematical models to forecast events.

Here the topics that I would like to cover

Education for children:
Switching schools system- did your children struggle with that (considering new language, altogether different teaching system). Any recommendations to make this as easy as possible on them?

I could consider international/bilingual schools. My thoughts about this sub-topic are:
The British School in Berlin is rather un-affordable for me, specially considering that I have 3 daughters.
The Nelson Mandela school looks good, but they seem to have some weird admission rules, and I am not certain that we check all the boxes.

What about other English/bilingual schools, which ones would you recommend? Should we aim for a regular German state school right away instead of private?<--  I am reluctant to have my eldest daughter (who will be 8 y/o by the time we tentatively move) go through another school system change because she struggled with that when we moved from a prior assignment in Brazil to London 2 years ago.

Housing:
For those that know London well, currently we live in Herne Hill, and we really like this areas (the cost of properties is altogether another story). Ideally I would like to live in an area in Berlin that has a similar set up. Near to the center, very international, young families, not snobby (but not unaffordably expensive like Fulham/Chelsea area). What areas would you recommend? How much should I truly expect to pay in rent for a renovated (or in good conditions) 3 to 4 bedroom property in such an area in Berlin?

Cost of living/Salary
I read that  the cost of living in Berlin is about 30% cheaper than in London. However, the problem is that this is an average comparison. Things change once you try to compare controlling for life style.<-- We learned this the hard way when we moved from London to Sao Paulo some years ago.
Forgetting for one minute how much I could earn based on profession, experience and age, what minimum annual salary would you say one would really need to live reasonably well in the Charlottenburg/Wilmersdorf area or similar, considering a family size of 5?<-- mentioning these areas because of the bilingual schools.<-- For those familiar with London, if it serves as a base line- we live in semi-detached 3brd property (about 85 sqm), in Herne Hill. 5 minutes away from the nearest train station.

Fitting in/Getting around/Bureaucracy
My wife doesn't speak German- so she would be taking lesson, but for a non German speakers, from a non touristy perspective, how difficult is it to get day to day things sorted? I work long hrs, so I would rely on my wife to deal with things like schools, council related things, etc. Would that be a nightmare for her if she doesnt speak German initially.

Job opportunities for my wife
As mentioned, she is an US educated fashion designer. She worked both in the US and in the UK. How difficult would it be for her to find a job in Berlin in that field (apparel) considering that she doesn't speak German, and likely wouldn't speak the language right away.<-- I appreciate that this is a rather difficult question to answer as there are many IFs.

I would really love to hear from people that have made a similar move to Berlin.

Thank you very much!

Jose

jvr1980 :

Education for children

Private (international) schools in Germany are either expensive or bad - and often both. Public schools are free and of consistent, relatively high quality.
At the age of your kids, it is still very easy to learn a new language just by immersion. Despite the initial adjustment issues, this is what I would recommend.
Please note that finding day care options for your younger daughters might need some time and effort, as kindergartens tend to be fully booked and have waiting lists. Also "full-time" in many kindergartens means 8am - 4pm or similar, making it difficult for parents to work. (The idea of a mother as housewife is still strong.)

jvr1980 :

Housing:

I'm not familiar with Berlin, but I heard the property and rental price level there, although quickly rising, is still lower than other German cities. It will also greatly depend on location - the more central, the more costly (and also the more lively, but the less green and space you'll have).
You can consult the official Berlin rental survey ("Mietspiegel") to find out more:
    http://www.stadtentwicklung.berlin.de/w … etspiegel/
One more note: Bring or buy your own furniture and household belongings, as furnished flats are very rare and extremely expensive!

jvr1980 :

Cost of living/Salary

The average German family with three kids has around EUR3000-3500/month disposable income (after tax/deductions). Having substantially more (as I assume you will) and still not managing will not get you sympathies - although as a newbie you will certainly make the wrong choices on occasion and thus need a bit more.

jvr1980 :

Fitting in/Getting around/Bureaucracy

Most Germans speak some English, so getting by in daily life is no problem. However, social contacts and a feeling of belonging will be lacking without German skills.

jvr1980 :

Job opportunities for my wife

I am not familiar with the fashion industry, but in general (as in most parts of the world) knowledge of the language used by customers, suppliers and partners is key to finding a good job. Thus your wife might want to concentrate on German classes for a year or two before looking for employment. In any case she cannot work before you have full-time child care for all kids.

Hi Beppi,

Thank you very much for the detailed comments on each of the subjects I had on my post. There is a lot of "food for thought" about your comments in general. Especially about  full immersion being possible and better for my young children, considering cost and quality of private schools in German.
Also great to hear what the average income is for a family of 3. Definitely helps me to compare more appropriately few things.

Best,

Jose

I really have to second most all of what Beppi wrote. For the younger kids I see no problem. I would think that at most, you might consider having the oldest child in an international or bi-lingual school for a year’s transition. That’s if you find a recommendable and affordable one…  I’ve never lived in Berlin so have no insider tips. But I would think this would normally be unneeded at that age and then it is disruptive for her to start at yet another new school afterwards. Not to say that the adaptation won’t be a challenge. But I know of many kids even older who managed and some of them arrived only  speaking one language. It is actually easier for many to learn a 3rd or 4th language than a second one because they are not locked into thinking of speech as having one set of rules. The exception might be for kids that have already reached the age of 14 or 15 and only intend to spend a year or 2 in the now country before going elsewhere.  However you would plan it, best to get them started learning German as soon as possible. And for your wife; survival with English is not in question but one should eventually learn German to be able to fully participate and appreciate the society. consider

Hi Jose. I'm living in Berlin for 2 years now with my daughter. We were lucky and got by chance a place at the JFK Kita am Fichtenberg, wonderful for younger kids before school. Super experience. Now the school is a headache! The one thing you should know about Germany: things here are horribly bureaucratic and not flexible and when you don't fit into their pattern it seems just impossible. Just am in the process of getting a school.... but if money would not be a question for you, I could ask a friend of mine. Her kids are at an private international school and they are very happy with it.

Nice areas: Schöneberg (young, international, mixed,  urban) or Lichterfelde West, more quite, residential, but still young and more or less open.

Nathalie

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